The American University of Beirut is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary through an extensive and elaborate photography exhibitions in Bliss as well as in the Beirut seafront, from Manara to Ain Mressieh.
The exhibtions commemorate AUB’s 150th through photographic journey that goes over several decades of Ras Beirut and AUB. Curated by Maria Abunnasr and the AUB Neighborhood Initiative, the exhibition is divided into six sections displayed along Bliss Street's western end.
The exhbition begins with Ras Beirut’s Seafront, moves on to Manara, Bliss Street, Hamra, and ends in Ayn Mreiseh. The exhibition is composed of sixty-one panels with multiple themed photographs, mounted along the AUB Bliss Street fence between the Main and Medical gates, engaging the community and activating the urban edge between the campus and the neighbourhood.
Zaha Hadid Architects has won an Aga Khan Award for Architecture for its Issam Fares Institute in Beirut.
The award recognises the practice’s building on the campus of the American University of Beirut. The ‘radical but respectful’ 3,000m² building, for the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, was won in an international competition 10 years ago, and completed in 2014.
The scheme was selected for a prize along with five other projects from a 19-strong shortlist. The latest awards cover buildings completed between 2014 and 2016.
The Aga Khan Award for Architecture was created by His Highness the Aga Khan in 1977 to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully addressed the needs and aspirations of communities in which Muslims have a significant presence. Prizes have been given to projects across the world, fromthe Aga Khan in 1977 to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully addressed the needs and aspirations of communities in which Muslims have a significant presence.
A statement from the Aga Khan Development Network said: ‘The building is defined by the routes and connections within the university; the building emerges from the geometries of intersecting routes as a series of interlocking platforms and spaces for research and discourse.
‘The massing and volume distribution fits very well with the topography, and the nearby Ficus and Cyprus trees are perfectly integrated with the project.’
It added that the building’s construction was a continuation of the 20th-century Lebanese construction culture of working with fair-faced concrete.
The footprint of the building was reduced by ‘floating’ a reading room, workshop conference room and research facilities above the entrance courtyard using a 21m-long cantilever.
The winners of the latest awards were announced at a ceremony held at the Al Jahili fort in Abu Dhabi. The awards were overseen by a steering committee chaired by the Aga Khan and featuring David Adjaye and AKTII co-founder Hanif Kara.
The full list of winners:
LEBANON: Issam Fares Institute, Beirut (Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects)
BANGLADESH: Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, Dhaka (Architect: Marina Tabassum) and Friendship Centre, Gaibandha (Architects: Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury/URBANA)
CHINA: Cha’er Hutong Children’s Library and Art Centre, Beijing (Architects: ZAO/standardarchitecture / Zhang Ke)
In a press release by the American University of Beirut, it said: "The QS World University Rankings for the year 2016/2017 issued on September 6, 2016 show progress on AUB's overall ranking amongst universities worldwide with an increase of 40 positions or spots, making it the university with the most improvement amongst the top 250 ranking universities in the past year. With an overall score of 43.3, AUB ranks 228 amongst universities worldwide, jumping from last year's score of 268."
Release added: "The improvement in ranking is mainly due to an increase of 18 places in the Academic Reputation indicator (considered the centerpiece of the QS rankings and carrying a weighted score of 40% of the overall performance score) and 21 places in the Student-to-Faculty ratio (weighted at 20%) which evaluates the level of teaching quality through calculating the ratio between two datasets, full time equivalent students per full time equivalent faculty."
"This significantly improved ranking is a clear testimony of the University's continuous drive for sustaining excellence in teaching, research, and service, and for becoming a premier University not only in the region but worldwide," Interim Provost Mohamed Harajli told us. "The AUB community, including students, faculty, staff, and alumni should feel proud of this remarkable achievement."
Over 100,000 survey responses were collected by the think tank Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), considering 4,322 universities, with 916 evaluated in one of the most comprehensive and trusted global ranking processes, the only one independently scrutinized and International Ranking Expert Group (IREG) approved.'
AUB ranks in the top 100 worldwide on two indicators: Employer Reputation (10% of overall score), taking into consideration the reputation of the university amongst employers and the resulting employability of fresh graduates; and International faculty (5% of overall score), assessing success in attracting academics from other nations.
All the University's figures and indices for the Citations per Faculty category are higher for the year 2016, although AUB's ranking dropped for this category, indicating a rise in research figures across all universities. AUB increased its publishing from less than 500 to over 1,000 papers per year since 2015. AUB ranked 73rd in the world and first in the Arab world in employment reputation.
"This is a significant evidence of the high quality of the faculty that AUB has and the services that our institution provides to students, the great and relevant education that it offers to its students, and the high caliber of workforce and leaders that it produces and makes available to the local and regional economies and societies," Director of AUB University Libraries, Dr. Lokman Meho told us.
"I am heartened to learn of the prestigious QS rankings and their affirmation of us as the finest institution of higher learning in Lebanon and among the top 3 in the Arab world," President Fadlo R. Khuri told us.
"While these rankings by no means can reflect all of the tremendous impact and value that AUB provides for Lebanon, the Arab world, and the international community as a whole, they do serve as affirmation of our continued progress towards being unanimously acclaimed as one of the finest universities in the world."
The absence of high-level humanities research in Lebanon is widespread and brings with it consequences that go beyond academia. A main aspect of the poor state of humanities in Lebanon is the failure to bridge the gap between academia and a wider audience. Despite Lebanon’s pride and reputation in higher education there is a notable absence of public intellectuals.
The lack of public-academic engagement weakens the humanities’ reputation as it gives off the impression that the humanities are of little worth to society.
“Colloquially, to philosophize is to bullshit,” said Rami El Ali, assistant professor of Philosophy at the Lebanese American University.
“[That’s because] it’s not immediately obvious what we’re contributing to society.”
Ali said it was understandable “because this is a post-war society [and people] are very concerned about making a living.”
This reputation is reinforced by many parents who are well known for placing pressure on their children to study science, engineering, or medicine – a “serious problem,” according to Selim Deringil, professor of History at LAU. Only four sophomore entry students enrolled in LAU’s Translation program this year, and not one in Arabic, History, or Philosophy.
Deringil explained that this is a common characteristic among developing nations, and is by no means limited to Lebanon.
Financial struggles and job prospects in the country play their part as well, tying into the low status and low priority given to the humanities. Abdul Rahim Abu-Husayn, professor of History at the American University of Beirut pointed out that “in the West, you can live by writing ... here you cannot.”
Despite the 40 or so universities that Lebanon boasts, Abu-Husayn dismissed their ability to sustain and support an academic culture. “Apart from a few institutions, the others are just dispensing degrees and making money,” he said.
The problems begin in secondary school teaching that is also failing the humanities.
There is a need for history students to “relearn” what they studied at school, according to Abu-Husayn. “I succeed with 50 percent of them. I fail with the other 50 percent,” he said.
It is not only the narrow confines of the course, however. The wider humanities culture at school is severely lacking and uninspiring Deringil explained.
“They [students] have the idea that they just have to memorize,” he said. “They just don’t like reading.” It is no surprise on that report that the humanities are easily dismissed as a soft subject.
In the professional arena of academia there are issues as well. There is a widespread lack of engagement with recent Lebanese history in both research and teaching at other leading institutions.
Currently not one professor at the AUB’s history faculty is conducting sustained research into post-World War II Lebanese history. Abu-Husayn explained that “our department is rather conservative in this respect.” He added, however, that history was very useful for understanding contemporary affairs.
This is in part due to the significance of the relationship between the humanities and politics according to Deringil. “It teaches you to think, it teaches you to question ... and not accept received wisdoms,” he said.
But given what he also describes as the “amazing baggage of recent memory,” this is problematic to say the least.
History is an extremely contentious subject and because of this “one of the major bones of contention that can lead to civil conflict,” as Abu-Husayn said he experienced even within the classroom when he began to teach early Islamic history. “Even academic historians generally tend to follow a sectarian history,” he said.
Another telltale sign of the shortcomings of the humanities in Lebanon is the persistence of inaccuracies believed to be historical facts. A common myth is that Fakhr al-Din I met Sultan Selim I, who bestowed upon him the title of sultan al-barr (sultan of the land). However, Kamal Salibi in an article published in 1973 entitled “The Secret of the House of Ma’n” proved that Fakhr al-Din I actually died 10 years before the meeting was meant to have taken place. Yet the story persists.
Another myth, according to Deringil is the belief, particularly among Christians, that Youssef Bey Karam opposed and resisted the Ottoman Empire.
Records have proved that Karam had tried to become an Ottoman official himself.
The myths, and the inaccuracies they entail, are built up around particular communities and have contributed to divisions within society by reinforcing separate, distinct identities. Deringil called for steps to bridge such gaps. “I think it’s a very important part of our profession to reach out to people who are not academics,” he said. “I’m not sure we’re doing enough ourselves to [implement] that.”
Ali has gone beyond the realm of academia and has recently been involved with the Beirut Madinati movement and is now an assembly member – “something like Beirut Madinati, a lot of the people who are there have done stuff that has to do with the humanities.”
From the Secular Club at AUB to the Intersectional Feminist Club at LAU, political activism is closely connected with the humanities.
In light of the struggling humanities disciplines, this is a worrying connection for Ali, who noted that “none of our problems are problems that have to do with science and technology.”
The American University of Beirut (AUB) graduated 2076 students this past May. The 2016 class included 510 in Graduate, PhD, and DoctorofMedicine programs and 1566 undergraduatestudents. During the ceremony, AUB granted the honorary doctorate in Humane Letters to film-maker Nadine Labaki, writer Nassim Taleb and chemistry scientist Dr. Samir Zard for their world-renowned achievements in their respective fields.
President Fadlo Khuri addressed the gradutes saying: "Today, you will celebrate together. Tomorrow you will step forth into the world, knowing that you are more confident, more able, more resilient, and more determined than you were when you first walked through these timeless gates to be forever transformed."
Khuri added: "Today, in addition to celebrating your accomplishments, we honor three distinguished individuals whose willingness to defy conventional wisdoms has led to their ground breaking, societally impactful work. This year's honorands are an acclaimed Lebanese filmmaker and actor, a world-renowned author and radical thinker, and a giant of organic chemistry. They have been chosen in recognition of their achievements on the international stage and their determination not to let conventional wisdom stand in the way of their quest for transformative excellence." He said that "the great Daniel Bliss shared this faith in the people of the Levant when he determined early in his tenure to one-day leave the governance of the institution to this region's indigenous people."
Commenting on the honorary degree, Nadine Labaki said: I am deeply moved today to be receiving this honor from one the finest universities in our country.
"To tell you the truth, I have been blessed lately. This year has been amazing to me! Four months ago I had a beautiful little girl, two weeks ago I was running for municipal elections with Beirut Madinati (Many of whom by the way are AUB alumni and Faculty, just to tell how great this institution is), two days ago, I wrote the most important two words of my next script: The END and now I'm here receiving this honor from the university I have so long been impressed by" she added.
In his turn, Zard said "The AUB has always been very dear to my heart, ever since I was admitted in 1971 as a free-auditor summer student. This was at the instigation of the late Professor Suheil Bushrui, of the Department of English Literature and a friend of our family."
For his part Taleb said: This is the first commencement I have ever attended (I did not attend my own commencement). Further, I have to figure out how lecture you on success when I do not feel successful yet -and it is not a false modesty.
"Success requires absence of fragility. I've seen billionaires terrified of journalists, wealthy people who felt crushed because their brother in law got very rich, academics with Nobel who were scared of comments on the web. The higher you go, the worse the fall. For almost all people I've met, external success came with increased fragility and a heightened state of insecurity. The worst are those "former something" types with 4 page CVs who, after leaving office, and addicted to the attention of servile bureaucrats, find themselves discarded: as if you went home one evening to discover that someone suddenly emptied your house of all its furniture", he added.
"I discovered along the way that the economists and social scientists were almost always applying the wrong math to the problems, what became later the theme of The Black Swan. Their statistical tools were not just wrong, they were outrageously wrong -they still are", he said.
Arabia Higher Ed Editorial Team. National News Agency, Lebanon.